The Jews, led by Joshua, were at last ready to cross over the Jordan river and start claiming Canaan, the land that God had given them. The problem was that various races of people had been entrenched in that land for centuries and had no plans to relinquish it. This meant that warfare was inevitable. If the Jews wanted to possess their land and settle it they would have to take it through battle.
The greatest test for Israel’s army would be the first one: the city of Jericho, with its massively thick wall surrounding it. To make preparations for the battle, Joshua sent two men to spy out the city. After making their way into the city, the spies hid out in the house of a prostitute named Rahab (Joshua 2:1). This was good cover because, as sordid as it might sound, two men visiting a woman of ill repute wouldn’t create much suspicion. Furthermore, Rahab’s house was located literally on top of a section of Jericho’s wall (Joshua 2:15). That location would make for a quick getaway if the spies were discovered.
As it turned out, the hideout came in very handy. Somehow Jericho’s king got word that two Jewish spies had entered the city and were at Rahab’s house (Joshua 2:2-3). So, the king sent messengers to Rahab demanding that she bring out the men. Rahab, however, hid the men atop the roof of her house (Joshua 2:6). When the king’s messengers asked her about the men, she said, “Yes, they were here, but I didn’t know they were spies, and they left at dark as the gate into the city was being shut for the night. I don’t know where they went once they left the city, but you should be able to catch them if you go after them (Joshua 2:4-5).
Once the messengers were gone, Rahab said to the two spies, “Since I have shown you kindness, please spare my life as well as the lives of my father, my mother, my brothers, and my sisters when you conquer this city (Joshua 2:12-13). The spies agreed to the request on the condition that Rahab and her family would keep their secret until after God had given Israel the victory (Joshua 2:14). Rahab then used a rope to let the men escape down the wall beneath her house (Joshua 2:15). She also advised them to hide in the local mountains for three days until the king’s searchers gave up on finding them (Joshua 2:16).
Famously, the sign that would let Israel’s soldiers know to spare Rahab’s family would be a scarlet cord hung in the window from which Rahab had lowered the spies down the wall (Joshua 2:17). Rahab was to bring her entire family inside her house. As long as they were there, they would be spared (Joshua 2:18-21). All of this, of course, played out per the agreement. As for how Rahab’s house wasn’t destroyed when God brought down Jericho’s wall (Joshua 6:20), there are different explanations. Probably the best one is that the section of the wall that God brought down was specifically the section that held the city gate. In other words, God might not have leveled the walls in total. Perhaps He left standing the small section where Rahab’s house was located.
But now let’s get back to Rahab’s boldfaced lie. Unlike the story of Shiphrah and Puah (Exodus 1:15-21), where there might be a possibility that those two women didn’t actually lie, there is no doubt whatsoever that Rahab told a big one. Still, despite her lie — to say nothing of her profession — the Bible sings her praises. Hebrews 11:31 says of her:
By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she received the spies with peace. (N.K.J.V.)
Similarly, James 2:25 says of her:
Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? (N.K.J.V.)
Okay, so what are we to do with this in light of the following passages (all from the N.K.J.V.)?:
- These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, A lying tongue… (Proverbs 6:16-17)
- Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, But those who deal truthfully are His delight. (Proverbs 12:22)
- A false witness will not go unpunished, And he who speaks lies shall perish. (Proverbs 19:9)
- Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25)
- Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him… (Colossians 3:9-10)
The best way to understand the story of Rahab is to say that God blessed the woman’s actions rather than her words, just as He had previously done with the actions of Shiphrah and Puah. Whatever else we might say about Rahab, she had full faith that Israel’s God was going to win the victory over Jericho. She even told those spies, “…the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Joshua 2:11, N.K.J.V.). Frankly, she had more faith than some of the Jews did. You don’t get listed in the “hall of faith” in the book of Hebrews if you don’t have an uncommon level of faith in the true and living God (Hebrews 11:31).
The hard, cold fact of the matter is that even though God is very much against lying, He oftentimes has to hit a straight lick with a crooked stick if He wants to get anything done in this world. Therefore, in the cases of Shiphrah, Puah, and Rahab, He chose to focus on the greater good that allowed His will to get done rather than the less-than-ideal details of how that good came to pass. What would be really fascinating to know is how God would have accomplished His will in both situations if all three women hadn’t lied. Unfortunately, that is information we don’t have.
In conclusion, as I bring this post and this two-part study to a close, the takeaway from these two stories is not that the ends always justifies the means or that God winks at the sin of lying. There are far too many other passages and stories that disprove both notions. The takeaway is that God is a merciful God who understands inner motives, not just outer deeds. You see, if you think about it, the lies of Shiphrah, Puah, and Rahab weren’t spoken to cover their sins, attain wealth, or prevent God’s will from happening. They were spoken to save lives and to bring God’s will to pass. God places great value upon each of those motivations
Lastly, another takeaway is that God is great enough to not be restricted by His own moral standards when He wants to get something done. This is how He was able to bless the polygamous marriages of the Old Testament era and use the offspring from those marriages in His plans and purposes. It’s also how He was able to use and bless other less-than-perfect individuals such as Samson, David, Peter, the woman at the well, Zacchaeus, and Saul of Tarsus. For that matter, He even used idol-worshiping rulers such as Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar and Persia’s Cyrus the Great to accomplish His purposes. All of these examples show us that God can use (even bless) anybody He chooses, and that includes lying women who have good intentions. This doesn’t give any of us a get-out-jail-free card to lie, but it at least helps us to understand God and His written word a little better.